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Dear client, does your therapist discuss you on social media?

Dear client, does your therapist discuss you on social media?

Dear potential client, or perhaps one already in a therapy chair/room. I wanted to speak out on your behalf, rather than write an article that would require you to do anything. You do indeed have that choice of course and perhaps this is a question you will raise once you have seen this article. If you are not old enough I hope your parents/carers or some professional reads this and considers its contents on your behalf.

I have been commenting on lots of posts on social media over the last few years and I now feel that I need to address and speak out on behalf of clients everywhere. You see being a human and doing the very kind of behaviour I’m going to talk about I made a mistake in my training and posted a picture of my birthday party being held at a training group because I was excited, and I also made an assumption that other trainees (begin adults) knew how to use social media. I was very wrong, and some of my peers were identified through their Facebook settings. It resulted in a shaming and guilt laden experience for me and one I quickly learned from.

What I see and comment on, on social media leaves me very worried for some of you. We provide you with a safe space and we discuss with you, reassure and ensure that sessions are confidential, and we mean it.

Well mostly, most of us do. Some of us however…

I would like to let BACP, UKCP, BPS, BAPT, BABPT, IAPT, NHS, NCS know some of your therapists are doing exactly this.

Dear child and/or adult counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists….

Social media is not supervision, nor is it a peer group, nor is it a safe space to talk about client work. It is not a an ego boosting platform for you to parade the numbers of clients you see. It is not a place to share photos of your work created together, it is not a place to share their stories of the day, nor is it a place to identify them through comments such as “Im glad to have supported this boy/girl”. It is not a place to discuss issues that you are struggling with clients nor is it a place to discuss how the sessions have gone.

Take it to supervision and keep it confidential. Keep it to yourself or discuss it with peers when you are guaranteed a safe space such as a therapy room, training room or classroom. One where you know that the other people in the room are your profession also. Social media is exactly that, its not your living room where you’re having a chat with a friend, you are not protected and its not confidential! Your post can be seen. Potentially by anyone who has access to the internet.

Do not share (identifying) information about your clients so they can be traced because here is a little experiment that some clients, stalkers, hackers, people, and companies do. I have also carried this out and here’s why this is a problem for you.

Let’s take Facebook groups for a moment: I’m going to pretend that I run a group called real counsellors only. So, I set it up and make potential group members answer a question. I’m not tech savvy so this question is are you a real counsellor? (I know, this happens believe me) So now I have 2,000 group members. Its very difficult for me to watch all of the posts that happen on the page, but its okay as I pinned a message saying, “no real client work posted here thanks!” A post appears about a counsellor struggling with a child client, whose 8 years old and they see this client at school and its Friday.

A potential client identifier (this sentence is important and I’ll come back to it shortly)

Will/can/might do this…They join these kinds of groups for varying reasons, as they want to know more? They see the post, they click on your profile, its not locked and now they can see your pictures, your family members, your friends, the groups you like, the groups you’re in, pages you like and so on. Most importantly for this exercise they see your practice, the school you have posted about where you work or your website as its advertised on your page. The goto your website, and/or they look at the school website in this example. They perhaps go and wait on a Friday near to the practice/school/setting and they see the clients leaving that day/time. I’m aware that schools are contained and its only leaving the grounds that children can be identified by the public, but bear with me and you’ll see why this is still an issue. They now know something about that child’s work so this could give them a starting conversation eg, “so you like painting?”

The client identifiers might be: The client themselves. Imagine if that came up in a session?

They might be potential abusers, yes this is a behaviour they would engage in. Lots of parents share photos with their children’s school uniform in and we know that’s how perpetrators learn about potential victims, so this fits the modus operandi here too.

They might be abusive partners, parents, adoptive parents, long lost family members trying to trace the person.

They might be your supervisor?

The peers of the client. Imagine if you’re discussing a sexuality issue that you struggle with and the client is outed?

An Artificial Intelligence programme and yes this is definitely a thing

An identify thief?

And now we have the GDPR ruling coming in it might be a solicitor/organisation?

All trust that clients put in us is sacred, as is the space we allow them to have when they work with us. We are bound by ethics and confidentiality not to identify them. Clients can of course identify us or talk about us on social media and that is their privilege, not ours. We also grant them safe protection of their data and this includes their words, pictures and anything we discuss about them. Social media is NOT the place to do this.

Social media policies won’t cut this as they will be vague or non-actionable, it needs to be in mandatory in training from the outset and it needs implementing now. Trainees need to hear messages that say DO NOT discuss your work on social media, it’s the only way to be crystal clear and to prevent clients being identified/shamed/outed/disrespected.

Please share this message so we can begin to provide our clients with the protection they deserve. My message to Governing bodies is your message (if you have one about this) isn’t working. Trainees are not the only ones carrying out this behaviour on social media (I’ve seen posts from Dr’s/Accred therapists doing exactly this). Ethically we cannot carry on allowing this to happen. Imagine the consequences, law suits and potential deaths/suicide that could be caused by this behaviour.

Mind reading and sharing on social media. The potential for misuse.

Once upon a time… When we existed as a simple cavemen/women we had simple brains that perhaps had simple thoughts and consciousness. Language may not have been very complex, so what caveman/woman level of thinking was available is up to your imagination, if I began to discuss this here it would take away from the point I wish to make. Suffice to say we aren’t one hundred per cent sure of this fact.

So, consciousness and thinking, fantasies, desires and our wants were (assumed to be) simple, primitive yet always private or secret. Caveman did not discuss these with other apemen/women for a number of reasons, primarily the lack of langue skills I would guess.

And so the same goes for modern man/woman, what goes on inside our thinking minds is not and cannot be known by another unless we transfer that thought into language or behaviour. For today’s article, I’m not talking about non-verbal intentions where we can tell what another person is likely to do based on what we think they are thinking, for example, a child looking at an apple, whereby we are an assumption they will reach out and grab it. I’m discussing objective and observational explicit things we can ‘see’ or ‘hear’ and this will become apparent soon why I’m aiming toward this form of communication.

Alongside this increasing complexity of language came our personal narratives about families, tribes, expectations about behaviours, likes and dislikes, yet communication was the key to this shared evolution. Internal narratives that may have contained strong opinions, feelings, or lustful rages and desires remained hidden unless shared.

And that’s the centrepiece for this article. Hidden unless shared. So why wouldn’t we share our most primitive drives, fantasies or thoughts? Well that’s up for a lager debate really, however, I’m suggesting as much of the psychological literature does that this is due to shame, fear (of reprise or judgment), lack of language skills, taboo subject matters and shyness to name a few. However, the point behind this is being a human being is complex and there are social norms to what are considered ‘accepted’ disclosures and this pertains to the size of the group, who is in the group and levels of trust within the group. Its how we maintain what Cozolino recently referred to as; Sociostatus*, ie harmony within groups.

(This is a play on words of homeostasis which is how our bodies attempt to remain balanced)

Harmony, Acceptance, Tolerance and balance. The order of harmonious groups, whether that be cells in a body or large numbers of a tribe.

So fast forward to the age of the Internet. The tribe we belong to in terms of possible connections is difficult to ascertain for certain, but let’s stay for the purposes of this article its the number of users of Facebook per month, which is 2 billion or (as other social media apps exist) 50% of the world as they have access to the Internet. That’s 3.5 billion people. Let that sink in a moment.

How or where do we find the sociostasis for this? What’s actually acceptable to disclose in a circle that is this large? What social norms exist? Surely there are many people who are both alike as there are different? Well, what we do know is there is as much variation on the internet as there is in real life, with one difference…….

Your thoughts (desires/opinions/feelings/lusts) once shared on the internet are now explicitly available for others to see, find and share if they so desire. Welcome to social media in one of its many forms. I’m sure from reading my blog you may well know by now that I keep the content real and yet protected somewhat, so following form I will introduce you to why this may be an issue. Many sexual fetishes are misunderstood by the layperson, however, there are some that border criminal intent as well as the bizarre. This may ‘pop up’ on your timeline without warning (sorry for the badly timed pun there). Again much of my research on social media has ‘introduced’ me to things I may never have known about IRL.

Why this is worrying is for these reasons; people have many sexual likes and dislikes, after all, we are all different. Once these are posted, for the prude, naive or uneducated this can create shock and outrage. For those who are more comfortable in their sexual preferences, likes and knowledge these types of post just pass them by, mostly. Discussions and perhaps humour is had and the post becomes a distant memory as the next post on social media displaces it (after all it really wasn’t that important was it?)

I will now briefly discuss some material that may be distressing so please be aware that this may evoke some strong feelings in you. Please take care of yourself.

There comes a cost of some fantasies and fetishes that are at the periphery that are shared on social media and this can cause distress to ‘ordinary folk’. For example, learning that there are men who actively seek out pictures of heavily pregnant women on social media to masturbate to may indeed raise questions about why? (I do not intend to answer this here). Outcries of rage and misunderstanding may even follow this disclosure and I understand that some of you may feel this way. I am not responsible for the content of the internet and this content exists in/on this internet.

Why is this even a cause for concern or worry though? Are you likely to see someone’s sexual preferences or fantasies online? Do you really care about what others like? Did you even need to know? Perhaps not, however, your sharing of your posts (in this instance photos) are in this very same internet. Does It then follow that we should keep all photos private? Perhaps? Does this limit you? Again perhaps? However, I want you to think about the fact that as you wander around public spaces that you’re unlikely to ever know what somebody is thinking or in this case, sexually fantasising about. It has always been this way.

So what is my actual point? In short, this is about being aware of what you share on the internet and how it COULD be used or sought out. Imagine if you were to find your photo on someone else’s site/forum/page and it was being used in a sexual way? For adolescents this may highlight why and where your photos may end up and for the adults reading this, you or photos of your family or children may be used in this way. I’m not saying don’t ever post your pictures up on social media, though I do say for pictures of infants and children that this is definitely my advice. If the pictures are not online how can they be shared?

I am fully aware that some of you may be angry about or with this article and I have encountered a number of parents who have ‘vented’ this on social media, and again I say I’m not responsible for others behaviour, intentions, feelings, lusts or the internet, people have these feelings and you do not know who they are, unless or until they tell you.